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October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month

group of women wearing pink shirts and breast cancer ribbons

October has been designated National Breast Cancer Awareness Month to raise awareness about the issue of breast cancer and what women can do to ensure that they protect themselves against this terrible disease.

Informing yourself about the new testing guidelines and treatment options will help you to recommit yourself to breast health throughout the year.

Understanding Breast Cancer

Cancer begins within the DNA of cells, when the programming that directs cell growth and replacement goes awry. In breast cancer, this programming error begins in breast tissue. A lump or puckering begins which may become more pronounced with time.

The cancer often starts in the lining of milk ducts or the lobules that supply the breasts with milk. Breast cancer is the most common invasive cancer found in women. The National Cancer Institute states that breast cancer affects 232,000 women and 2, 200 men each year in the United States.

It is much more common in industrialized nations, probably because of the longer life expectancy and exposure to more toxins in the environment. It is a highly treatable form of cancer, and many people who have had breast cancer are alive today through improved methods of treatment.

What Causes Breast Cancer?

Researchers believe breast cancer is caused by a number of factors that often occur together. Genetics plays a part, as does exposure to high levels of radiation, hormone replacement therapy, early start of menses, and obesity.

Other factors include increasing age, certain types of breast lumps, dense breast tissue, heavy alcohol consumption, and previous occurrence of breast cancer.

New Mammogram Guidelines

Early detection helps to increase the survival rate of breast cancer patients. The American Cancer Society recommends a mammogram at age 40 and every year afterward. The U.S. Preventative Services Task Force recommends mammograms at age 50 and every two years afterward.

Discuss which schedule would be best for you with your physician. If you have a family history of breast cancer or previous history of breast lumps, he or she may advise you to get more frequent screenings. Mammograms can give false positives or inconclusive results.

Further testing, such as an MRI, should be done to ensure that a positive reading is problematical.

breast cancer awareness month butterfly logo

Breast Self-Exams

The American Cancer Society advises women to begin breast self-exams to educate themselves about how their breasts feel under normal conditions. They will then be aware of any subtle changes that occur that might signal a problem.

These exams should be done monthly at a time in your menstrual cycle in which you do not have breast tenderness. Your gynecologist can teach you the correct method of breast self-examination at your annual exam.

Finding Treatment

Your regular doctor or gynecologist will be able to refer you to a medical oncologist or radiation oncologist for treatment of breast cancer. The specialist should be board certified and have a good record of experience treating your type of cancer.

You should interview him or her to ensure that you have a good rapport and feeling of trust. The specialist should be able to explain treatment in an understandable fashion and be responsive to your individual needs.

Your health plan may have a number of oncologists available.

New Treatment Options

Generally, surgery, radiation and chemotherapy are used to treat breast cancer. Genetic testing is making it possible to determine who is at high risk for developing serious breast cancer. New drugs that can target cancer cells are being developed and utilized.

One new treatment option uses an oral pill instead of the traditional IV method for administering chemotherapy. However, these pills may not be covered by your insurance. The Susan G. Komen Foundation in partnership with CancerCare has developed a program for financial assistance for those who are undergoing breast cancer treatment.


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